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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Professors and Politics

Why do academics tend to favor the Democratic Party and liberal issue positions? In The New York Times, John Tierney (see earlier post) ponders self-selection, the idea that conservatives simply choose not to enter the field.

But many conservatives insist that a liberal reputation wouldn’t dissuade them from taking a gig with tenure and summers off. The self-selection theory doesn’t satisfy Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, a group critical of what it calls liberal bias in academia. Dr. Wood, a political conservative, is a former professor of anthropology and associate provost at Boston University.

“Conservatives may be self-selecting out of graduate school, but they’re doing it on a rational basis,” he told me. “It’s become clear to them that they’re unlikely to succeed at the same level as someone going into these fields with more socially approved political convictions and attitudes.” They’re discouraged not by a letter from the director of graduate studies but rather by more subtle obstacles blocking the way to tenure, in Dr. Wood’s view. Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education in March, he criticized liberal social scientists for failing to heed their own extensive research into bias.

“The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter,” Dr. Wood wrote. “If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others.”

Republican scholars are more likely than Democrats to end up working outside academia, as documented byDaniel Klein, an economist at George Mason University. Dr. Klein, who calls himself a classical liberal (a k a libertarian), says that the university promotes groupthink because its system of “departmental majoritarianism” empowers the dominant faction to keep hiring like-minded colleagues. And when a faculty committee is looking to hire or award tenure, political ideology seems to make a difference, according to a “collegiality survey” conducted by George Yancey.

... [As] Dr. Yancey reports in his new book, “Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education,” more than a quarter of the sociologists said they would be swayed favorably toward a Democrat or an A.C.L.U. member and unfavorably toward a Republican. About 40 percent said they would be less inclined to vote for hiring someone who belonged to the National Rifle Association or who was an evangelical. Similar results were obtained in a subsequent survey of professors in other social sciences and the humanities.